Wednesday’s NFL transactions wire brought a bit of news that, though rumored in certain outlets, was something of a surprise nonetheless. The Jets traded Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints, along with a sixth-round pick in 2019, in exchange for New Orleans’ 2019 third-round pick.
The Jets signed Bridgewater this offseason to a one-year deal, with the promise of competing for a starting position and heavy incentives for playing time and team success. But later that offseason, the Jets had the opportunity to trade up in the draft, and Sam Darnold was there at their #3 pick. Though Bridgewater played very well during the preseason, Darnold also played well enough– and was the obvious quarterback of the future– to be given the starting job, and with Josh McCown also guaranteed $10 million this season (inexplicably, in my opinion), Bridgewater, still only 25 and seemingly over the horrific knee injury from training camp 2016 that threatened to end his career, seemed the obvious choice to be moved.
Enter the Saints, who have the talent to contend for the Super Bowl this year, but who also have a 39-year-old quarterback. Drew Brees’ age becomes a factor in the short- and long-term: At a certain age, one never knows when a quarterback will fall off, and when he does, it’s usually for good; Brees’ day will surely come eventually, and this move leaves the Saints both prepared for an injury or unexpected cause of his downfall, and for the potential of a long-term replacement when Brees’ contract expires after 2019 (assuming they re-sign Bridgewater).
Personally, while I do think that, in a vacuum, criticizing the Saints for trading a pick for a player who was available on the free-agent market is fair. On the other hand, as one of the original members of the Teddy Bridgewater Fan Club, I’m stoked that he has seemingly recovered from his injury and is now a Saint. He’ll back up Drew Brees this year: Apparently the team didn’t have much faith in Tom Savage or Taysom Hill, but they believe they can be a contender again, and if something happens to Brees, management wanted to know that the QB position wasn’t going to sink the team.
What Bridgewater brings to the table– the traits that made me so high on him in the first place– is a highly advanced, almost preternatural pocket presence along with accuracy. Bridgewater is excellent at sensing the rush, at using his footwork to avoid it, and at finding the open man and delivering a pinpoint ball.
The weakest element of Bridgewater’s game is his deep ball; he doesn’t have the pure arm strength to effortlessly uncork a long pass, probably a major reason he fell all the way to 32nd in the 2014 draft. (Despite the degree to which quarterback is a technical and mental position, scouts continue to be enamored with players with overwhelming size and arm strength, even when they can’t read defenses or deliver passes accurately. We saw it that year with Blake Bortles going 3rd overall; we saw it again this year with Josh Allen going 7th overall. We saw it in 2011 when folks seriously talked up Blaine Gabbert as a better QB prospect than Cam Newton, and we saw it when both Gabbert and Jake Locker were picked in the top 10.)
That said, this is an area where Bridgewater can improve with time, has likely improved and he can still hit all the other routes on the tree very well. (Look at that first GIF– even if Bridgewater can’t deliver a perfect bomb 50-60 yards downfield, throwing a perfect corner route 30 yards away is nothing to sneeze at.) What’s more important in the Saints offense, with all the talent on hand, is that Bridgewater be able to deliver accurately. Between the talent of the skill players and Sean Payton’s designs at getting them open, Bridgewater’s job should be relatively easy, and he’s got the accuracy and the acumen for it.
Bridgewater’s career path even mirrors Brees’ to some extent. (I’ve got to give Arif Hasan, now of The Athletic, credit for first pointing this out.) They were both underestimated on draft day due to their physical attributes; they both suffered a potentially career-ending injury; and their original teams moved on from each of them. How appropriate would it be if, once again, the Saints’ next franchise quarterback was somehow a Pro Bowl talent whom nobody seemed to want?
It remains to be seen if Bridgewater will stay on long term. He walks into an ideal situation if he does, though; the Saints’ other offensive players are largely young, especially the skill position players, and the overall level of surrounding talent on offense may be the best it’s been in the Sean Payton era. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Saints to give up what they did in trade for him if they don’t intend to keep him, so I for one am hoping they try to work out a reasonable extension for him with some sort of plan to have him be the future starter (some incentives in the contract to that end would probably encourage him to stay long-term). The Saints are all-in for 2018, and this move will keep the season from being scuttled in case of the unthinkable. If management plays their cards right, this could also be a seamless transition from Brees to a 5-10 year starter.
Last, I’ll just leave you with one truly ridiculous play from Bridgewater’s college years. How did 31 teams pass on this guy?
BONUS COLUMN! I was planning to use this week to write a 53-man roster projection, but the Teddy Bridgewater trade required its own column. Don’t worry; that other one is coming soon on Friday as well. (And then on Saturday, we can find out just how accurate my predictions were.)